Members of the Senate Finance Committee were celebrating a legal opinion by the Government Accountability Office declaring a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services limiting states’ ability to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program as a proposed rule that should have been vetted by Congress.
CMS issued the letter, which insisted that 95% of all children below 200% of the poverty level must have verifiable health insurance coverage before any additional children could receive care through the state CHIP programs, on August 17 of last year.
“The August 17 letter from CMS to state health officials is a statement of general applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret or prescribe law or policy with regard to SCHIP,” concluded GAO general counsel Gary Kepplinger in the ruling. “Accordingly, it is a rule under the Congressional Review Act. Therefore, before it can take effect, it must be submitted to the Congress and the Comptroller General.”
The ruling was issued in response to a letter by Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W. Va., and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Me, who serve on the Finance Subcommittee on Healthcare. The Congressional Research Service reached a similar conclusion on the August 17 letter earlier this year.
“Both GAO and CRS have now confirmed what so many of us have known for some time, that the administration clearly overstepped its legal authority in issuing the August 17 letter,” said Rockefeller. “The directive is a bold-faced attempt to subvert the law and prevent states from implementing their plans to provide health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured children nationwide. CMS now has a critical choice to make: rescind the rule or continue to spend taxpayer money defending a growing list of lawsuits it is unlikely to win.”